Robert Were Fox the Younger

Robert Were Fox FRS (26 April 1789 – 25 July 1877) was a British geologist, natural philosopher and inventor. He is known mainly for his work on the temperature of the earth and his construction of a compass to measure magnetic dip at sea.[1]

Robert Were Fox the Younger
Fox Robert Were Younger.jpg
Born26 April 1789 (1789-04-26)
Died25 July 1877 (1877-07-26) (aged 88)
Known forGeophysical measurements
Magnetic dip compass
Scientific career
FieldsMining, geology, geophysics

Life and familyEdit

Fox was born on 26 April 1789 at Falmouth, England, the eldest son of Robert Were Fox (1754–1818)[a] and his wife, Elizabeth Tregelles. He had nine siblings. The Fox family were members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and were descended from members who had long settled in Cornwall, although they were not related to George Fox who had introduced the community into the county.

In 1814, Fox the Younger married Maria Barclay (1785–1858), daughter of Robert and Rachel Barclay of Bury Hill,[2][3] near Dorking, Surrey. Maria's sister, Lucy, married Fox's cousin, George Croker Fox (1784–1850).

Robert Were Fox the Younger and his wife had three children, Anna Maria (1816–1897), Barclay (1817–1855) and Caroline (1819–1871). Both Caroline and Barclay Fox's journals have been published.

Robert Were Fox the Younger died on 25 July 1877 and was buried at the Quaker Burial Ground at Budock.[b]

Business interestsEdit

Fox was involved in many aspects of his family's businesses, along with several of his brothers. He also served as Honorary Consul of the USA in Falmouth from 1819 to 1854.

Fox and Joel Lean were granted a patent in 1812 for their modifications of steam engines. The grant of patent was described thus: Specification of the Patent granted to Robert Were Fox and Joel Lean, of Budock, near Falmouth; for certain Improvements on Steam Engines, and the Apparatus needful or expedient to be used with the same.[4]

Horticultural interestsEdit

Fox's gardens at Rosehill[5] and Penjerrick, near Falmouth, became noted for the number of exotic plants which he and his son, Barclay, had naturalised. Both are now both open to the public.

Scientific workEdit

Experimental apparatus of Fox[6]

Fox's work was in what today would be referred to as geophysics. He was distinguished for his researches on the internal temperature of the earth, contributing papers to the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall,[7] and being the first to prove that temperature definitely increases with depth (the geothermal gradient), his observations being conducted in Cornish mines from 1815 for a period of forty years.[8] In 1829 he began a set of experiments on the artificial production of miniature metalliferous veins by means of the long-continued influence of electric currents, and his main results were published in 1836.[9]

In 1834 Fox constructed an improved form of deflector dipping needle compass, or dip circle, for polar navigation.[c] One was used by Sir James Clark Ross on his Antarctic expedition and used to discover the position of the South magnetic pole.[11]

He was a key person in the development of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society and its promotion of scientific research and training. He was an active member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. On 2 June 1838 Fox was elected a member of the newly-formed London Electrical Society[12]

Robert Were Fox, his cousin, George Croker Fox (1784–1850) and brother, Alfred Fox, assembled excellent collections of minerals, which are now in the British Museum, given by Arthur Russell.[13]

Honours and activitiesEdit

The Society owns a collection of letters addressed to Fox and his family.[15]

Selected writingsEdit

The following is a very incomplete list of Fox's writings. According to the Dictionary of National Biography (1889), Fox authored 52 scientific papers.[16]


  1. ^ Fox and his father (1754–1818) had the same name. The father also merited an entry in ODNB: Payton 2004
  2. ^ R. W. Fox was buried at the Quaker Burial Ground, Budock, along with his daughters, Anna Maria and Caroline, according to a Burial Plan at the Cornwall Record Office. However, no gravestones for them remain: the Burial Ground was vandalised in the 1970s and many gravestones broken.[citation needed]
  3. ^ The dip of a needle is defined as:

    "a certain property which all needles possess when rubbed with a lodestone of inclining the north end below the level of the horizon: this property found to increase in going northward".[10]

  1. ^ The main source for this article is ODNB biography: Crook 2004
  2. ^ Westcott 2004, pp. 17–22.
  3. ^ Exploring Surrey's Past 2009.
  4. ^ Fox & Lean 1813, pp. 200–204.
  5. ^ (Tripod 2010[unreliable source?])
  6. ^ Fox 1837, pp. 133–134.
  7. ^ Crook 2004.
  8. ^ Cornish Mining 2007.
  9. ^ Fox 1836.
  10. ^ Falconer 1830, pp. 122, 123 and Plate IX, Figure 11.
  11. ^ Archives of Natural History Archived 20 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Minute Book of the London Electrical Society 2 June 1838 (unpaginated). Special Collections Ms. 42/2. Archives of The Institution of Engineering and Technology, London WC2R 0BU
  13. ^ Embery & Symes 1987, p. [page needed].
  14. ^ Lists of Royal Society Fellows 1660–2007
  15. ^ See this listing of archives
  16. ^ Harrison 1889, p. 113.



Further readingEdit

Letter 1108 (page 518) is from Fox to Faraday in 1838, describing some of Fox's experiments.

External linksEdit